Friday, 2 September 2016

Archives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille Provence: sources for modern Indian History

A post by Arundhati Virmani, Ehess, Centre Norbert Elias, Marseilles.

This is an expanded version of the paper Arundhati presented at our Paris conference in July 2015. 

French naval and commercial strategies in the Indian Ocean and relations with India and South East Asia is hardly a neglected subject. A long list of impressive studies has given rise to some major publications among which Philippe Haudrère – La compagnie française des Indes au XVIIIe siècle (Paris, Les Indes savantes, 2005); Les Français dans l’Océan indien, XVIIe-XIXe siècle (Rennes, PUR, 2014.) – or Jacques Weber – Les établissements français en Inde au 19e siècle, 1816-1914 (Paris, Librairie de l’Inde, 1988, 5 vols.), or his Pondichéry et les comptoirs de l'Inde après Dupleix: la démocratie au pays des castes (Paris, Denoël, 1996).
Yet, the archives of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille, remain relatively little exploited by historians and researchers working on both maritime trade with India and on the Indian ocean. No doubt, the large collection of primary sources dealing with the French colonies in the “Archives Nationales d’Outre-Mer” (ANOM) of Aix-en-Provence nearby have played a part in dwarfing the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce archives. In fact, the latter contains rich source material that includes correspondence and reports on trade links between Marseille and French colonies in India.

The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille-Provence is one of the oldest institutions of its kind. It was founded in 1599 with the objective of keeping track of French maritime trade and eventually protecting its interests. It became an autonomous body under Louis XIV in 1650, breaking away from the control of municipal authorities and thus acquired larger powers covering matters related to the harbor and navigation, the protection of merchant ships, and the affairs of the local economy. The development of this institution can be followed in Octave Teissier, La Chambre de commerce de Marseille, osn origine, sa mission, création des premiers comptoirs français dans les échelles du Levant, développement du commerce général et de la richesse nationale, Marseille, Barlatier and Barthelet, 1892, XXII - 411p; Louis Bergaasse, Notice historique sur la chambre de commerce de Marseille (1599-1612), Marseille, Barlatier, 1913 [7] – 269 p ; La Chambre de commerce de Marseille, 1599-1949; le passé, le présent, l’avenir. Préface d’André Cordesse, Marseille, G. Lang, 1949, 110 p; Gaston Rambert (ed.), Histoire du commerce de Marseille [des origines à 1789], published by the Chamber of Commerce of Marseille, Paris, Plon, 6 vol., 1949-1959 (t. 1. L'antiquité, by R. Busquet. Le Moyen Age jusqu'en 1291, by R. Pernoud.--t. 2. De 1291 à 1423, by É. Baraticz. De 1423 à 1480, by F. Reynaud.--t. 3. De 1480 à 1515, by R. Collier. De 1515 à 1599, by J. Billioud.--t. 4. De 1599 à 1660, by L. Bergasse. De 1660 à 1789, by G. Rambert.--t. 5. De 1660 à 1789; le Levant, by R. Paris.--t. 6. De 1660 à 1789; les colonies, by G. Rambert)
It also acquired some authority in matters that touched diplomatic relations – the French consulates in the Mediteranean area–, and especially custom and trade questions related to the French colonies. In the 18th century, other such institutions developed in France before they were deemed unconstitutional. Thus, the CCM was suppressed in 1791 in a general movement but later revived by Bonaparte in 1803. In 1872, the Chamber created a specialized library open to the public. The German invasion of the non-occupied zone led to a transfer of the more ancient collections to Puyloubier, about 46 kilometres from Marseilles, with another more important part of the archives being deposited in the cellars of the Palais de la Bourse in Marseilles. But because of lack of space in the cellar, the rest of the historical archives remained in the third and fourth floors of the Palais. Despite a succession of disasters, such as an avalanche of obus shells during the battles in the city on 23-27 August 1944 and a fire that destroyed much of the collections, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Marseille still remains a centre of resources not only for the Mediterranean but for France’s larger maritime relations, recognized by the International Council of Archives and Unesco. It constitutes an important research tool for economic matters relating to Marseille, its harbor and the ship traffic that passed by this port. Above all, its archives, located in the centre of the city, are very easily accessible to researchers.

Main sources for India
 There is no major published guide to the sources relating to India or South Asia. Some printed works nonetheless are helpful indicators. A published numerical inventory of sources before 1801 can be found in Jean Reynaud’s Répertoire Numérique des Archives, vol. 1. Archives antérieures à 1801. Fonds particulier de la chambre, Marseilles, F. Robert et fils. 1947. This contains a list of the commercial activities between Marseilles and the French Indian empire from the 18th century onwards. A good secondary source to consult on this is Louis Dermigny, Cargaisons indiennes, Solier et Cie, 1701-1793, Paris, Sevpen, 1960, 2 vol. The Roux collection covers 1728-1843. A second inventory for the 19th and 20th century archives. Archives of shipping companies like Messagerie Maritimes also form part of the collections.

The French entered the trade on the Coromandel coast in 1672 and seized Pondicherry two years later, becoming part of a complex commercial environment that included the Dutch and the British. French commercial investment in Pondicherry developed considerably in the 1720s and 1730s. The French Compagnie des Indes was headquartered in Pondicherry. From the 18th century onwards the export of goods, grains, cereals or cloth from India formed a significant part of the trade of the French empire. These geographical movements of commodities represented important shifts of capital. Their trajectories show the linkages between the different parts of the French empire and the broader trade rivalries.
Pondicherry was connected to the French port of Lorient, to Bordeaux and to Marseilles, where goods like indigo and dyes that formed part of the stock waiting transhipment to French colonies in Africa were received. In Senegal for example, these goods were exchanged for slaves to be sent on to the Caribbean. The P&O ships linked Marseille to Calcutta since 1852. The Chamber of Commerce sources shed light on these economic links and exchanges.
The Pondicherry Chamber of commerce was founded in 1848. Maritime trade between Pondicherry and France increased spectacularly under the Second Empire, exporting indigo, sesame, cottons; Pondicherry was also the point of departure of coolies. Exports would fall in the 1870s with the discovery of aniline dyes that impacted indigo trade, and the coolie trade was finally prohibited and suspended between 1876-1885. But Pondicherry was the centre and port for goods coming from the Bengal coast, Orissa and Coromandel. Its important population of weavers led to the establishment of a “filature mécanique” by MM. Blin and Delbruck. Free trade dealt a blow to this industry with Belgian, or English toiles proving to be cheaper than toiles coming from French India. The Chamber continued to fight for a modification of customs duties on goods coming from Senegal. But then Pondicherry was saved  by the sudden spurt in the export of peanuts. This was of particular interest to Marseillais industialists producing oils, soaps etc. With the opening of the Suez canal Marseilles suddenly moved closer to Pondicherry. A good part of the correspondence deals with these issues and the commercial competition between the Britsh East India Company and the French, or the traffic of goods between India and France, in particular Marseilles.
An important set of sources contain correspondance concerning trade relations with India, letters received by the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce from French colonies in India. File YC/27/01 contains letters and reports dealing with the beginnings of the French occupation of Pondicherry in the 17th century. YM/03602 deals with the displacement of local populations from south India to the French colonies; ZD.02258 contains reports from French representatives in India on Anglo-French rivalry in India and in the Indian ocean. ZD/06548 holds the correspondence of the Council of Chandernagor from 1745-1757. Finally, the file YM/07491 lists the principal merchants and businessmen of French India. Printed material includes a history of the French installations in India. This can be found in ZD/14194, whereas file YG/19/01 contains the demands of the Pondicherrry chamber of commerce and the different products sent by the Chamber of Commerce to the colonial exhibition of Marseilles in 1906.
The MQ series from 1801-1993 contains sources for the 19th century on goods being exported, on custom duties negotiations and French and Indian trading houses involved in exporting sesame, cotton, indigo.
MQ 54/15 1801-1964 contains correspondence on French trade with Bengal, relations with Surat in 1816 and reports on the potential of Bombay. Correspondence between the two Chambers of Commerce, Marseilles and Pondicherry, stress the potential of a huge Indian market for French industrialists and the advantages for France in developing her position in the Indian Ocean. They seek to mobilise the Marseilles trade institutions to win support and financial banking from the home government for favorable custom tariffs. They provide information both on the French trading companies dealing with India and Indian trading houses conducting commercial exchanges with France. This is an interesting source as well for more contemporary trade relations after 1957. It would be relevant for researchers studying trade links between Marseilles and India before and after the Second World War and contains information on French attempts to invest in India after 1947.
MQ/429 holds correspondence concerning French establishments from 1817 onwards. There are 78 documents in this file dealing with the movement of textiles, oil, rice, the peanut trade from the Coromandel, which was of particular interest to oil producers in Marseille. The file has detailed catalogues of goods from India, their quantity or prices. There is much that will interest the economic historian here about the financing of trade. Equally, for historians interested in studying the 18th, 19th centuries from the perspective of global connections, there is much on the traffic of coolies, and the displacement of Indians to other French colonies like Antilles or Guyanne.
Demands for Pondicherry to develop railway links between this colony and the South of India to promote the peanut trade and break the isolation of the French colonies can interest researchers keen on exploring regional and broader trade networks and how regional economies and markets were being fashioned.

The Roux collection, L.IX-Fonds Roux 1728-1843 is part of the Annexe collections of the Chamber of Commerce. The archives of several merchant houses and many of their account books were destroyed before being collected by the Chambre de Commerce. It contains around 8271 letters about food products, raw products and manufactured goods. The trading house, Maison Roux, functioned till 1843 with a peak activity before the Revolution. François Roux was a merchant based in Marseilles. Four societies were successively formed and run by three generations of the family. Their activities covered a large range of goods: arms, insurance, banking. These sources are of particular interest for economic history of the 18th century. They shed light on the activities of businessmen in this period and specifically on Marseille’s trade. There is a rich collection of letters from ship captains and correspondents in different countries, London, Italy, Leghorn, Messina, Naples, Venice, Portugal…
Files 1.027-1.029 in this collection deal with prices of goods in Marseille, of wheat and grains, oils, soaps, rice, dyes, drugs, spices, cottons, silks. File 1.030 - 1.036 contains the exchange rates in Marseille from 1797-1819. There is an alphabetical filing of all its correspondents. It contains more than 5000 index cards and an inventory by county and city, with the list of its correspondents. French ships taking European goods to Asia returned with cowry shells and Indian textiles valued by West Africans. On the African coast, traders exchanged these Asian products for slaves who, in turn, were sent to France’s New World colonies. There are references to ships transporting Indian coolies to French colonies passing through Marseille. The Asian-European trading relationship was a fundamental link in the African slave trade.

Papers of important merchant houses engaged in trade, maritime insurance or import of goods and raw products form an important part of the Chamber of Commerce archives. They can offer further information about the Asian-European trade that was an essential element of the triangular slave trade, known as the “circuit trade” between Europe, Africa and America. The slave trade was as deeply entwined with Europe’s New World trade as it was in the Asia trade. When for example, the slave ship Diligent left France for the West African coast in 1731, over half its cargo consisted of cowry shells and various types of Indian textiles. Cowry shells served as the major currency along the West African coast, and came from the Maldive Islands near India. Ships belonging to the Company of the Indies returning from India and China would stop in the Maldive Islands and purchase cowry shells, which they used as packing material to cushion crates of porcelain and other goods. Cowries served as ballast to keep the ship steady as well. Because the porcelain, tea, spices and textiles of Asia were of higher value than the European trade goods that the ships brought from France, returning ships had a great deal of empty space in their holds that was filled with cowry shells. Once back in France, cowries were removed and repacked in barrels to be shipped to West Africa.
The Asian trade was of course vital to the slave trade. In 1706, when the French East India Company closed down, French slave traders were cut off from access to cowry shells and Indian textiles and found it impossible to remain competitive in the slave trade. A consortium of merchants raised over a million livres to start a company to replace the defunct French East India Company. They requested authorization from the French Council of Commerce, citing the difficulties they were having in obtaining products of Asia that were vital for the slave trade, mainly cowry shells and Indian textiles. Their request was denied and the government instead formed the Company of the Indies, which was given a monopoly over both the Asia trade and the slave trade. The trade with Lorient and Asia was a central part of this chain. The Fonds Roux contain files on auctions of goods by the Company of the Indies from 1729-1810. (L. IX. 1037) It features a list of goods coming from the Coromandel coast and Bengal and the details of public sales of indigo and cotton.

Historians interested in specific commodities like Indigo or Indiennes and painted textiles would do well to consult Series H that deals with questions of general trade. For instance, one such report is made by M. Guillaume Febvrier, commissioner of the ship Le Fleury in 1738. Files H 139 and H 203 deal with the 17th and 18th centuries, particularly the trade of indigo (1684-1739) and textiles (1686-1790). H/195 deals with the silks of India and China from 1686-1791.

A further set of sources dealing with private merchant houses in Marseilles trading with India includes the correspondence of the Rocca society (L/19/14/123) with merchant societies in India, more specifically Calcutta (Graf & Banziger, 1852-54; Oliva and Casella, 1851-1852; Robert & Charriol 1854-1857). Besides the fonds Roux mentioned above, this contains a list of the principal merchants and industrialists of French India, mainly Pondicherry: YM/07491 (Pondicherry 1936). listing the names, location, products (textiles, links, indigo, matches…)

Printed sources include reports of the Bombay Chamber of Commerce for 1864-65 (Bombay, Pearse and Sorabjee 1866), and for 1864-68. The Bengal Chamber of Commerce (Calcutta, Cones and Co. 1871) reports are available for the 19th century.

A more heterogenous group of files contains reports on Indian traditional medicine: (ZC/02686; 02687), the hygiene of whites, the miscigenous and Indian population in Pondicherry (ZC/04383), the Civil law of Hindus (ZC/04048; ZC/04049). There is even a file on the French expedition to the Himalayas in 1935, and the Chambre de Commerce’s financial involvement in this adventure.
Whilst these sources are a rich field for the economic historian of the early 19th century, researchers working on contemporary business history will find material to study Indo-French relations, trade exchanges and technical cooperation from the 1950s onwards. Files on the industrialisation of India (REVUE/CCM/1945/02). REVUE/CCM/1949/5: Archives Historiques, deals with the development of the chemical industry, INDE A/C/000562 contains information on the visits of Indian delegations of the Franco-Indian Chamber of Commerce to the Marseilles Chamber of Commerce.
MQ54/17 contains reports on trade with India from 1979-1993. These relate to the correspondence on projects of possible collaboration between the Indian Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of French business leaders, between Indian business groups and the chamber of commerce Marseilles. In particular,  a report prospecting possibilities of doing business in India and Bangladesh in March and April 1979, addressed by A.L. Paul (Dept. of foreign trade, CCIMP, Marseilles) to President Bourdillon of the CCIMP Marseille, proves piquant reading. He notes that the Indian market presents various possibilities, but rarely suitable to PME’s. Indian firms are interested in big enterprises, and all cooperation, the realization of projects, administrative and fiscal hassels, delays of return on investments, constitute big risks. The Indians reproach the French for being too expensive and not too active, in comparison to the British, Germans, Japanese and South Koreans who are very effective actors in the field. Americans are not too well perceived. Russians are discrete and participate only in the public sector. He concludes by saying that the torrid heat, added to the electricity cuts that stop the air-conditioning and lifts and the short working day 10-4p.m. and often only 10-2 p.m for some banks and businesses interrupted by lunch, prove to be very trying.
Finally, there is a small collection of iconographic sources: some German, French and British maps of 18th, mid and late 19th century and views of Pondicherrry.